The television show “Law and Order” may not be an accurate portrayal of the justice system to a Payson High School student, but the show has inspired students like sophomore Caleb Harrison to join the school’s Mock Trial Club nonetheless.
“I did the ‘Law and Order’ show when I grew up,” Harrison said, adding that while it might not be realistic, it sparked his latent interest in debate and arguing. “I do like to debate.”
Students in the Mock Trial Club eagerly indulge their affinity for arguing, and the club is in its third year.
Harrison, although he argued a drunk driving case on a Mock Trial Club “dream team” earlier this year, will likely act as timekeeper this round because of other responsibilities.
Burgeoning lawyers must sift through a roughly 70-page packet full of court statements, descriptions of the fake cyber bullying law cited in this particular case, and a list of exhibits.
“They have homework to do. It’s not just a club for fun,” said teacher Anna Van Zile. “These are your natural arguers.”
On a recent Wednesday evening, mock trial’s practitioners gathered in Van Zile’s room so Gila County Deputy Attorney Lacy Hakim could divide the six students into teams. Hakim volunteers with the club to offer legal expertise.
The students discussed courtroom etiquette — “Your Honor is generally how you start” — and discussed the merits of productive opening and closing arguments, as well as appropriate questions.
“You have to regurgitate it out and you have to argue the points,” advised School Resource Officer Mike Snively about the closing argument.
For homework, Hakim directed each team to collaborate on its closing argument.
Van Zile, who teaches sophomore English along with Windy Jones, said she started an in-class mock trial years ago by trying characters in novels like “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“The kids that were in my English class were bugging me to start (a club),” she said.
However, “the kids had a hard time serving as unbiased jurors,” Van Zile added. “They knew in their heart of hearts who was guilty,” because they already read the book.
Then, Snively introduced trying a faux drunk driving case and thus began the Mock Trial Club. Payson’s best of class are invited to the “dream team,” which tried the drunk driving case in December at Payson’s courthouse.
The Mock Trial Club will compete against other schools in a March regional competition, the winner of which goes to state.
The first year, Payson ranked third in the regional contest; the team found itself outmatched the second year. Student lawyers faced five teams from a school that devoted an entire class to mock trial, and appeared in court with hair tied in buns and matching suits.
The teams soundly defeated Payson. However, Van Zile said her students hung in there.
“The kids kind of just followed their lead,” she said.
“You really have to think on your feet. The wild card is the people that you’re arguing against won’t always say what (you) expect.”